March 4, 2024

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Hundreds of people are missing as the death toll from forest fires in Chile reaches 123.

Hundreds of people are missing as the death toll from forest fires in Chile reaches 123.

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Volunteers in central Chile tried to remove charred metal, broken glass and other debris Monday from neighborhoods Destroyed by forest fires Over the past few days, officials have raised the death toll to 123. Hundreds of people are still missing.

The fires appeared to have diminished by Monday morning after burning intensely since Friday on the eastern edge of Viña del Mar. Two other towns in the Valparaiso region, Quilpe and Villa Alemana, were also severely damaged. President Gabriel Buric He said on Sunday that at least 3,000 homes had been burned in the area.

Marisol Prado, director of Chile's forensic service, said 10 more victims were added to the death toll on Monday afternoon.

Prado said many of the bodies were in poor condition and difficult to identify, but added that forensic workers would take samples of genetic material from people who reported their relatives missing.

Viña del Mar Mayor Macarena Ripamonte said at least 370 people were reported missing in the city of about 300,000.

The fires have ravaged several neighborhoods built precariously on the mountains looming east of Viña del Mar, also a popular beach resort.

Officials indicated that some of the forest fires around the city may have been set intentionally. Dry weather, strong winds and low humidity helped the fires spread faster, Buric said.

Priscilla Rivero, a chef from the Alto Miraflores neighborhood, said it took about 15 minutes for the flames to move from a nearby hill to her home.

She said she moved her children to safety when she saw the fire approaching, but by the time she returned to rescue some of her belongings, her house was burning, with licks of flame visible from the windows.

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“It's where we've lived our whole lives,” Rivero said. “It is very sad to see it destroyed, to lose our memories, our photos, the photos from my parents’ wedding, but some of that will remain in our hearts.”

Later on Monday, a statement by US President Joe Biden said: “Jill and I are deeply saddened by the loss of life and devastation caused by the ongoing wildfires in Chile.”

He said: “My administration is in contact with our Chilean partners, and the United States is ready to provide the necessary assistance to the Chilean people.”

Schools and other public buildings in Viña del Mar and in the capital, Santiago, currently serve as warehouses, where people take donations of water, food, candles and shovels for fire victims.

In Viña del Mar and the neighboring cities of Villa Alemana and Coeli, police asked people not affected by the fires to stay in their homes so that rescue teams could move more easily.

Hundreds of people affected by the fires returned to their homes on Monday to search through the rubble. Many said they preferred to sleep near their homes to prevent thieves from seizing the rest of their property, or from seizing the land on which their homes were built.

In the Villa Independencia neighborhood, on the eastern periphery of Viña del Mar, Marco Delgadillo tried to clear rubble from his house, which he built 25 years ago, when the area was first randomly settled by workers without building permits.

The flames consumed Delgadillo's furniture and smoke blackened the walls, but they remained standing.

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The builder said he would rebuild, and urged the municipal government to help him repair the collapsed roof of his house before the start of the Southern Hemisphere winter.

“We have no other choice,” Delgadillo said. “Buying a new piece of land is unaffordable right now.”

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Rueda reported from Bogotá, Colombia

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Follow AP's coverage of Latin America and the Caribbean on https://apnews.com/hub/latin-america